State Library of Victoria. Public Building in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

State Library of Victoria

Public Building in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Summer sun at the State Library Photo © Steve Davidson

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State Library of Victoria

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State Library of Victoria - State
	Library of Victoria
State Library of Victoria - State Library of Victoria. Photo by Sarah Brabazon
The State Library of Victoria is located in the city of Melbourne and is the central library of Victoria, Australia. As the oldest public library in Australia, it is one of the most important cultural and heritage sites in the state. This large library occupies 22 buildings on a city block in the north of Melbourne’s Central Business District. The block is bordered by Swanston Street, La Trobe Street, Little Lonsdale Street, and Russell Street.

The State Library of Victoria holds no less than two million books and 16,000 serials, which include the diaries of the founders of the city, John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner, and notes by Captain James Cook. In addition to books, there are also a couple of museums. The original armor of bushranger Ned Kelly is a definite highlight there.

The main building is an architectural masterpiece. Located on Swanston Street, a grassy lawn lies in front of the impressive façade and main entrance. This lawn is a popular lunch spot and meeting place among Melbourne’s citizens and university students. The entrance area is dotted with statues and sculptures, the most notable of which are a pair of bronze lions, St George and the Dragon, Jeanne d’Arc, and the statue of Mr Justice Sir Redmond Barry.

Victoria State library, reading room - State Library of Victoria
Victoria State library, reading room - State Library of Victoria. Photo by Nick Morieson

Inside dome - State Library of Victoria
Inside dome - State Library of Victoria. Photo by Albert Llausas


The decision to construct a state library was made by Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe and Mr Justice Redmond Barry in 1853. They organized a competition for the design of the building, which was won by Joseph Reed, a local architect who would also design the Town Hall in Melbourne and the Royal Exhibition Building.

Construction started in 1854 and the library opened two year later. At the time of the opening, the State Library of Victoria held a collection of 3,800 books, personally chosen by Mr Justice Barry. The library’s first librarian, Augustus Tulk, was hired about three months later.

The Queen’s Reading Room (present-day Queen’s Hall) opened in 1859 and was the main reading room. In 1866, a series of buildings was added for the Intercolonial Exhibition. These buildings stayed in use until 1909, when construction of an entirely new building was started. This building was to become the Domed Reading Room, the landmark of the complex and opened in 1913. The building complex also used to be home to the State Gallery and Museum. However, in the 1960s, the National Gallery of Victoria was moved to St Kilda Road and, in 1990, the Melbourne Museum moved to Carlton Gardens (Wikipedia Article).

Large renovations and refurbishments took place between the early 1990s and 2004, costing about 200 million AUD. The main reading room closed in 1999 and was reopened in 2003, renamed the La Trobe Reading Room (Wikipedia Article). This spectacular reading room is among the finest in the world.

 - State Library of
State Library of Victoria. Photo by Peter Gawthrop

State Library - State Library of
State Library - State Library of Victoria. Photo by Prateek Rungta

Visiting the State Library of Victoria

The State Library of Victoria is not all about books. There is a lot more going on. Visitors can play games, watch films, read newspapers, visit the museum, participate in workshops, and admire works of art.

The magnificent La Trobe Reading Room, underneath the landmark dome, is one of the major highlights of the library. This huge octagonal space was designed to hold a million books and provide seating to 600 people. The views of the reading desks from one of the storeys on the side are spectacular. The Chess Reading Room, which has a chess house and information and items relating to the history and practice of chess, has one of the world’s largest public chess collections. Other reading rooms are the Redmond Barry Reading Room and the Heritage Collections Reading Room. There are lots of study spaces and a wealth of information to be found in the library. The Arts Collection Reading Room is where visitors can listen to music or watch movies, while the Family History & Newspaper Reading Room has a vast archive of Australian and international newspapers, magazines, publications, and a lot of genealogical resources.

The State Library of Victoria also has several exhibitions in three art galleries. Temporary and permanent exhibitions are held in the Keith Murdoch Gallery, Cowen Gallery, and in the Dome Galleries that surround the La Trobe Reading Room.

	Library of Victoria - State Library of Victoria
State Library of Victoria - State Library of Victoria. Photo by Alpha
The library is located within walking distance from public transport and parking lots. It lies opposite of Melbourne Central, which makes it extremely convenient to reach by train. Buses and trams are other forms of public transportation in the city.

It is open from 10.00 AM to 9.00 PM from Monday to Thursday, and from 10.00 AM to 6.00 PM from Friday to Sunday. The library is closed on Good Friday, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day. Admission is free.

Similar Landmarks

Other great libraries in the world are Clementinum in Prague, the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin, Central Library of Vancouver, the Public Library in New York City, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Wikipedia Article) in Alexandria, Egypt.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Jan 09, 2015


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